If you haven’t checked out actress Laura Dern’s recent blog about keeping your shoes off in the home, be sure to give it a read. Thinking about the examples she references and adding in a little common sense: shoes walk through all kinds of stuff better left outside.
What we think of as “dirt” isn’t just soil from the good earth. It’s decomposing food and packaging, animal feces, crushed glass, chemicals from pesticides and automobiles, and countless other unsavory elements. 9 years ago when I first started teaching yoga in my home studio, I became aware of just how much “dirt” we unconsciously bring into our homes on the soles of our shoes. Considering that the skin is an important circulatory organ, I soon adopted a shoe free practice in my home, relegating footwear to pavement and closet.
Clean floors aside, the complicating factor to maintaining a shoe free home is having guests over. As an avid hostess, for me that’s a pretty frequent consideration. But introducing the practice to guests can be done gracefully with visitors of every type and stripe. From groups of four ladies over for tea in to mixed groups of 40 people over for karaoke and potluck, I’ve had them all.
Still a somewhat rare practice, going shoeless in someone’s home or being asked to shed shoes at the door can be a shock the first time you experience it. Like any personal choice, what makes being shoe free possible and socially acceptable is how you set it up and frame it. If you’re playing with the idea of being shoe free, here are a few basic things you can do to make it easier on others first visiting your home:
- As host to others, spare yourself a socially uncomfortable moment by keeping it light. Rather than making it a big negative conversation with lots of “don’t’s” or “rules” (ie. “we don’t wear shoes in my house” or “do you mind taking off your shoes?”), or grossing people out with conversation on just what IS on the soles of their shoes, you’ll notice even in this blog post I simply refer to this practice as being “shoe free”. By calling it “shoe free” and inviting others to “relax and kick their shoes off in my shoe free home!”, the conversation is positioned as a choice and naturally points to the benefits.
- Provide pleasant seating where folks can take off their shoes. Even with a modestly sized apartment ], I’ve dedicated my foyer to this with a few benches where visitors can sit down, relax and ease their shoe-less way into my home. I decorated it with art from my travels so people have something pleasant to look at while shedding shoes and also to create an ambience of cultural diversity and wisdom from the very first moment.
- Have an organized space where people see their shoes can be lined up – and add a pair or two of your own as “demo”. We all hate making messes in other’s homes so helping guests to be polite and orderly will make the whole thing easier.
For the barefoot averse, have attractive slippers in a few basic sizes available for people to use. I go to China Town or hit the web and get a couple sizes “silk” slippers and keep them in a basket by one of the benches. I offer them to especially shy guests – for a couple bucks it adds exotic elegance to the conversation and I always offer them as a gift to whomever has used them as a “thank you” for visiting.
I remember the first time we celebrated my birthday after going shoe free. Mid-December, the city was covered in snow and I had countless friends from all over the world gathering to celebrate the holidays/birthday. Given the weather conditions I decided we’d skip the shoe free practice, and so didn’t mention it as guests poured in from the cold. Here’s the fascinating part: seasoned guests took it upon themselves to remove their shoes and to tell newcomers to take off theirs. Pretty soon we had a living room full of dancing shoeless feet. The shoes were lined up waiting for guests, salty but completely dry by the time everyone began to leave, making for a cozy end to a warm evening together.
If you’re attracted to the idea of having a shoe free home, don’t let social concerns hold you back – the benefits to your health make it worth the transition effort. Family members from small towns in the south and Midwest, business associates, clients, my agent, clergy and friends have all found themselves relaxing in my shoe free home. Just make it comfortable and take it one shoeless foot at a time.